What is Cloud NAS?
Kai Poynting
February 22, 2021

The generally accepted definition of Cloud Network Attached Storage (NAS) (or in other words the definition most easily found on Google search) is from TechTarget, and reads: “remote storage that is accessed over the Internet as if it was local. The storage is usually hosted by a third party, and charges a customer a fee based on capacity and bandwidth.” This is a fairly accurate definition in most cases, if a bit simplified. Buurst’s SoftNAS does not fit this definition in two key points:

  1. We are not a cloud service; we sell a software product that is a NAS virtual appliance.
  2. We do not charge based on data capacity and bandwidth; we charge based on performance requirements

The part about remote storage that is accessed over the internet as if it is local is completely accurate. Indeed, we pride ourselves on delivering an affordable storage solution delivering high performance and availability for AWS and Azure clouds as well as on VMware.

A Cloud NAS does (or should) indeed work like the legacy, on-premises NAS currently in a lot of data centers. If it is a service offered by a third party, along with hosting and bandwidth charged by them as host, it can be presented to you as simply another IP address to which you point your local endpoints. But in reality, such services are typically providing access to a virtual appliance, designed to work with and leverage their own private cloud storage. Both the cost of development of the virtual appliance, and the costs associated with hosting the data and bandwidth are charged to the customer. In some cases, they may act as a reseller for another cloud provider, and charge a premium for it. This is definitely still Cloud NAS, but it is not the ideal Cloud NAS.

For Buurst, the virtual appliance itself is the key to Cloud NAS. It is not a storage capacity and bandwidth service. Storage capacity and bandwidth are already available in multiple formats, and offered much cheaper than any private organization can reliably provide by the monoliths of the Cloud, AWS and Azure. The goal of Cloud NAS should be to leverage the services of these giants, simplifying infrastructure and providing flexible deployment options while reducing costs. This means you can leverage the scalability and flexibility of cheap cloud storage and still provide familiar enterprise NAS functionality. By delivering a flexible virtual appliance, we can also allow organizations to host locally as well as the cloud, delivering a hybrid solution.

Why do you need Cloud NAS?

The traditional needs met by locally hosted Network Access Storage are still present today. Users still need ready access to multiple file formats, without delay, and without downtime. The real change is in the amount of data being generated, which is substantial. According to predictions from various sources (presented by SeedScientific), in 2025, 463 exabytes will be created every 24 hours worldwide. There will also be 175 zettabytes in the global datasphere. In comparison, estimates for 2020 claim (or predicted) approximately 40 zettabytes. This exponential growth is primarily driven by ever increasing personal use, but is mirrored fairly closely in the business community. It is still unknown what effect Covid-19 will have on these predictions, but it could be substantial – for example, according to Forbes, remote work has increased 300% over pre-Covid levels.

What does this mean? It means hosting data locally will become exponentially more expensive in terms of hardware costs, as well as associated costs such as DR (disaster recovery). Because AWS and Azure and other emerging competitors (Google for example) are focused on creating essentially “limitless” cloud storage, it is already far more efficient to leverage these services than to fork-lift hardware-based solutions. In addition, with built-in redundancy, disaster recovery is also much, much cheaper. With the right set of capabilities, cloud-based NAS offerings significantly shorten the amount of time it takes to migrate from an on-premises NAS to the cloud.

Benefits of Using a Cloud NAS service

Price/Performance Flexibility:

A strong Cloud NAS virtual appliance should provide a great deal of flexibility. It should be available on or compatible with several of the key cloud platforms (AWS and Azure). It should be able to leverage both lower performance and lower price cloud object storage (AWS S3 or Azure Blob) but also higher performance tier block devices to satisfy HPC (High Performance Computing) level SLAs. You may even be able to utilize both types of storage from the same virtual appliance, depending on your use case. The right Cloud NAS solution will be able to meet your storage requirement for any project.

Eliminate Legacy NAS Systems Refresh

How do you predict exactly how much storage and the performance you will need from that storage over the next 12 months? Have your predictions ever been derailed by an unexpected project requiring additional storage at a different performance level? With legacy hardware NAS solutions, you usually get locked into a long-term contract, and if something changes, you incur the overhead and costs that come with a “forklift” upgrade. With a Cloud NAS, you are in control. You can create the storage you need when you need it, for as long as you need it without signing long-term contracts or renewals. With some solutions, you can leverage your existing hardware to host their virtual appliance to help move your workload to the cloud more easily.

Built-in Data Resiliency

Most cloud storage has data resiliency built in by storing multiple copies of data on multiple disks. You can even distribute the data across different zones in some cases. This resiliency does not replace the need for High Availability, SnapShots and backups, but it is nice to have this level of resiliency built right into the storage used by your Cloud NAS. A good Cloud NAS appliance should build on the available data resilience offered by the cloud provider and expand on it.

Pay as you Go and Reduce Costs

With the right solution, there should not be any additional costs for the storage you need, beyond what the storage provider (AWS or Azure) charges. The licensing for the appliance should not change based on use case performance or storage requirements. Cloud storage is becoming both cheaper and more flexible over time, as the key players jockey for position. If your Cloud NAS solution supports the many differing storage performance tiers offered by AWS and Azure (as it should), then you can instantly scale your cloud instances to best suit your needs, simply by adding additional storage, or changing the type of storage you use. You may even be able to create tiered storage, and push legacy data to lower cost storage, while maintaining performance for your frequently accessed data in top-tiered storage.

Use Cases for Cloud NAS

SaaS-Enable Applications:

When looking to migrate applications from on-prem to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) in the cloud, a common hurdle is that traditional applications typically do not support the native cloud storage interfaces. Rewriting your applications to support cloud storage requires application development and is usually complex and costly. For legacy applications that use standard file protocols, the right Cloud NAS can offer the expected file services and support for NFS, CIFS/SMB, and iSCSI, along with Active Directory integration support for your existing applications. Choosing a Cloud NAS with the features your application depends on is key.

High Performance Computing (HPC):

HPC requirements for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are becoming standard. The power of the virtual machines you can create in the cloud today matches what you can get on-prem, but you need your storage to meet HPC SLAs also. The level of performance you can get from both compute and storage IOPs and throughput is increasing every day. With the right Cloud-based NAS, you can achieve 10s and even 100s of thousands of IOPS with massive throughput to cloud storage today. And as the performance of the cloud resources increases, you have the option to use this power as needed, and the flexibility to use it only when needed.

The amount of file data being created daily can be overwhelming. We already discussed earlier the exponential growth of the datasphere. This can only increase in the aftermath of Covid-19, with more and more employees working from home, and more employers seeking to ensure user productivity at a lower price point. This can be as simple as providing a file share repository for users to store shared data, or back-end support for a VDI solution. Such a solution needs to be flexible enough to support Windows and Linux users, cost-efficient, and able to balance performance needs with cost. If user data needs to be kept indefinitely for compliance reasons, your solution should also be able to help with the migration of legacy data, or even the setup of an automated tiered storage solution.

Backup and Archive Data:

The data your company collects is one of its most valuable assets in today’s world. You simply cannot afford to lose it. When you need to access that data, you need to be able to access it quickly. Using cloud storage to store backup or archive data can be the key. A Cloud NAS with lower cost cloud storage gives you “endless” capacity to store backup and archive data. You have the flexibility to decide what level of SLA you need for the retrieval of archived data and match it to the price/performance requirements you have. If your SLA to retrieve archive data is days, you can use archive level object storage. If you can’t wait days, choose higher performance storage. If, for compliance reasons, you need to plan to keep data accessible for decades, you will want a Cloud NAS that can help you automatically move the files to less expensive cloud storage for you. The right Cloud NAS can help you with both your increasing capacity needs and will keep costs down by moving those compliance files to more cost-effective storage.

DevOps and Development:

With cloud-based NAS, developers and DevOps can quickly stand up a new storage infrastructure needed for a new project (a new app, a POC, or any other type of project) and then tear it down when done (no long-term storage contract required). The storage needed is always available to be allocated at the performance required for the project.

Consider Your Needs Carefully

When considering a Cloud NAS partner, it’s important to understand your current and potential future requirements. Most cloud NAS offerings include “table stakes” NAS functionality, but the devil can be in the details.

  • Some may charge for hosting as well as the interface.
  • Some Cloud NAS’s only offer limited support for the types of cloud storage that can be utilized.
  • Some limit the capacity of storage that can be supported.
  • Some may be fine for basic performance workloads, but can be quickly overloaded as performance demands increase.

Top Cloud NAS solutions may offer solution extensions to help you solve problems beyond just storing data in the cloud. They may offer extensions that help you:

  • Migrate your data from on-prem to the cloud
  • Move cold data from more expensive higher performing storage to more cost-effective less performant storage
  • Offer enterprise class high-availability
  • Data orchestration that can help you automate the movement and transformation of data

So when considering a Cloud NAS partner, take a look under the hood before you buy. Understand what type of mileage you will really get with your selection and save time and money by choosing the right tool for the job from the beginning.

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